July 2, 2014 | By Endalkachew Chala

Open Rights Group Launches Site to Track ISP Blocking in UK

"Are you being blocked?" asks Open Rights Group's (ORG) newly-revamped website, "Blocked!"  The site, which relaunched today, allows users to test whether their websites are being blocked by one of the UK's 10 major Internet service providers (ISPs). Anyone who suspects their website to be a target of the ISPs' filters can detect a block by simply entering the URL of their site into the search bar provided.

The project seeks to address the problems of arbitrary blocking of websites prompted by concerns about child protection, copyright, and other issues. As ORG explains:

The UK government has pressured Internet Service Providers (ISPs) into promoting filters to prevent children and young people from seeing content that is supposed to be for over 18s. This may seem like a good idea, but in reality filters block much more than they are supposed to, which means information is being censored.

This project comes in the wake of the government's efforts to promote various filtering technologies as a means to prevent children from accessing inappropriate sexual material. However, on their wiki, ORG argues that in practice, many more people are finding themselves behind filters, which block a much wider range of material than they're supposed to. Hence the goal of "Blocked!": To gather, archive, and understand why websites get blocked.

Using data from users, "Blocked!" will archive what kinds of websites are being blocked in the UK, and why. Coupled with other projects—such as ORG's 451 Unavailable, which seeks greater transparency from ISPs with respect to blocks that occur as a result of legal orders—this documentation of the disruptive effects of filters will aid in the fight to keep the Internet open. 

So far, the project's preliminary results show that 19 percent of the sites tested (out of 100,000 total) were found to be blocked by one ISP or another. The results also demonstrate a high level of variation between ISPs.  Notably, the "Blocked!" campaign itself has been reported blocked by two ISPs, BT and Virgin Media.

ORG has plans to expand the project to conduct bulk tests using large lists of websites, starting with the most commonly visited ones. It remains to be seen what kind of impact the data will have, but as the project gains momentum, the impact can only grow.


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